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Gene McKamey, known as the first football coach at Piner High School and remembered as the man who gave his athletes a ride home when they needed, died Feb. 26 after suffering declining health for many years. He was 82.

Born June 14, 1931, in Judsonia, Ark., Robert Eugene McKamey was youngest of four children born to Ethel and Clarence McKamey. After Clarence McKamey died and the older children were no longer living at home, Gene Mc-Kamey and his mother moved west to Sonoma County where Ethel became a cook, housekeeper and baby sitter.

"It was tough, but they managed," said Della Mc-Kamey, Gene McKamey's wife of nearly four decades.

McKamey graduated from Sonoma Valley High, where he played football. He played at Napa Junior College before heading to Humboldt State University, where he was an all-conference lineman. He graduated with a teaching degree and in 1953 wed Eleanor Otis. That marriage ended in divorce.

McKamey served in the U.S. Army until 1957 and then embarked on a career of teaching and coaching that began in South Fork before going through Terra Nova and eventually Santa Rosa.

An all-around athlete, McKamey coached football, baseball, wrestling and golf over the course of his career.

In 1966, he took a job at the brand new Piner High School, where he would remain a coach until 1982 and a teacher until 1992.

When he began with the Prospectors, athletic fields were not yet built.

"They practiced at the El Rancho (Tropicana Hotel). It was kind of tough," Della McKamey said.

"He was a little bit old school," said his son, Matt McKamey of Santa Rosa. "He wasn't really a yeller, but just always respected."

"But he grabbed a few kids by the facemask," he said.

But he also took those same kids to Cal football games and gave them rides home if they needed, his wife remembered.

"He was caring. He used to help the kids out," she said.

McKamey served as the Sonoma County League Athletic Commissioner from 1972 until 2000. He was given a lifetime service award by The Press Democrat in 1999.

As commissioner, McKamey supervised 18 varsity sports and coordinated postseason playoffs in all of them.

McKamey was inducted to the Piner High and Humboldt State halls of fame.

But it was with his family that he truly thrived, his son said.

"He was real fair. His dad died when he was young so he always felt obligated to be a good dad himself," Matt McKamey said.

Gene McKamey made the kids' breakfast and lunch on school days and insisted the family sit down for dinner together every night, he said.

"You had to have dinner at home," he said. "Families were too busy and families didn't see each other enough."

Della McKamey remembered a man who loved to take his kids fishing for salmon and halibut at Tomales Bay and drive to Berkeley for Golden Bears games.

"He was very outgoing," she said. "He was a very nice guy."

In addition to his wife and son, Gene McKamey is survived by sons Mark McKamey and Michael McKamey, both of Santa Rosa; daughter Suzie Martineau of Santa Rosa; and nine grandchildren.

A celebration of life will be held at a later date.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Donations in McKamey's name may be made to the Piner High School Foundation.

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